oranje - recent posts from my current home

Sunday, July 16, 2006


There have been a number of blogosations lately about the museum system, paticularly on Edward Winkleman's blog and at Bill Gusky's Artblog Comments.

It seems to me that museums taking on the appearances of popular venues is their reach for making art relevant in consumer society. By placing art in an environment that is somewhat familiar they hope to attract consumers. I don't think that placing art in a restaurant is the solution, though. It is possible that visual arts are less relevant to consumers because artists are not creating art for the general consumer. Everybody is concerned with appearing oh-so-edgy. Obtuse and obscure visual language has come to dominate the plastic arts, marking any attempt at accessibility as pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Nor do I think that educating the consumer is the answer. That seems so condescending. As artists, maybe it is us that need the education. I don't think the general public is uninformed just because they don't get the message an artist purports to be making. Especially when said artist is using a visual language that is superficially obtuse, so self-referential that only someone immersed in the obscure reaches of the culture of art will pick up on the references or so repugnant that only the most thick-skinned are willing to take the time to understand it. Artists that make a practice of obtuse or repugnant language should be prepared to absorb the consequences instead of moaning that nobody understands their work.

I've noticed a dichotomy in presentation in my home town. The Cultural Trust manages several performing and visual arts venues downtown. For the most part, they bring in blockbuster shows in both areas. But what is blockbuster for the performing arts(Beauty and the Beast, Forbidden Broadway) have a much broader appeal. By contrast, they have brought Doug & Mike Starn's ABSORPTION + TRANSMISSION to the Wood Street Galleries. While I have no argument with the work presented in the exhibit (it was quite lovely. Heart as Arena reviewed it here), I will observe that their appeal is to an entirely different demographic. The gallery certainly didn't come close to packing them in the same way that Beauty and the Beast did. While the Cultural Trust does bring more challenging shows to their stages, it is unheard of that they would bring in a visual artist whose appeal would be on the same level. Thomas Kinkaid at Wood Street Galleries? It would never happen.

With the information age has come an incredible diversity of sources. There are innumerable ways in which the public is bombarded with messages about every topic from the environment to the impact of poverty and the lowly standing of fur-bearing creatures. In some instances, visual arts have lost track of this availability and are putting themselves in a position where the have antiquated views on our society. We are out of step and walking backwards.

Like a number of artist bloggers, I am seeking a solution.


Merge Divide said...

Your point is well taken, but I think it's a question of balance. I agree that there is a fair amount of art that goes to the extreme in its inaccessabilty. But I don't want to see the "Beauty and the Beast" of the art world either. Thomas Kincaid is already overexposed as far as I'm concerned. All you have to do to find the kind of art you are talking about is go to a gallery in any small town or at the beach. Actually, there are still plenty of galleries in town that display that kind of work. But there is more stuff that challenges the viewer in the city because that is what the "art scene wants". I'm glad the Cultural Trust brings work to town that isn't directed toward the mainstream. They couldn't do that if they were a for-profit venture.

Susan Constanse said...

Hi David,
No, I don't think that Wood Street Galleries should be showing Kinkaid. I never said that. I get frustrated with an art presenter that shows work with a limited appeal and expects to pack in a large number of viewers. I also find the Cultural Trust's two-pronged approach to cultural attractions disturbing.

What I am saying is that a lot of visual art purports to be high-minded but is really just overblown self-importance. When a viewer finally learns the language, the artist really isn't expressing a new or nuanced thought. And I do think that in many instances the artist is underestimating the viewer.

The comments I am making relate to some posts about the role of museums and their efforts to reach and affect a greater number of people.

One definition of insanity is to commit the same act but expect different result. Isn't that what artists are doing by producing work in the same vein but expecting different results?

Further, fine, evocative art is not limited to the rarified environs of museums and non-profit venues. That seems to be another case of underestimating mainstream culture. Validation by the few only feeds the cycle of success by obfuscation.

John Morris said...

I think Susan is making a great point here. A lot of the scene seems to be just dumb inside joke.
A bunch of people making the same three or four points over and over in ever more bizare ways.

It's like one guy said. "this is slap in the face of public taste followed by the next guy who peed on it and then the one with the can of -- and so on. Not suprisingly the public is trying to go on with life without some of this stuff.

I do actually think there are a number of artists making extreemly accesssible and often beautiful work in new ways. Julianne Swartz, Polly Apfelbaum and even Dale Chihuly come to mind.

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